• Last week: 11-2; Season: 90-43 (.677)
• Best pick in Week 9: Cleveland 24, Tampa Bay 17 (Actual score: Browns 22-17)
• Worst pick in Week 9: San Diego 26, Miami 24 (Actual score: Dolphins 37-0)
Usually when I hear about the “Battle of Ohio’’ in November, I’m thinking it’s election season rather than football season. But both the Browns and Bengals are relevant in the AFC North race this year, and what a race it is, with all four teams boasting winning records and just 1.5 games separating first place (Bengals 5-2-1) from last place (Ravens 5-4) in the division. These teams are pretty evenly matched in their current form, and the Bengals’ injury situation on defense (likely no Leon Hall, Vontaze Burfict or Rey Maualuga Thursday) should give the Browns a legitimate shot at the upset.
But Cleveland’s running game hasn’t been anywhere near as reliable since center Alex Mack broke his leg in Week 6, and I don’t think the Browns can match the Bengals point for point on the strength of their passing game alone, especially with Cleveland star tight end Jordan Cameron still sidelined by a concussion. There will be no Thursday Night Football blowout factor to worry about in this one. The Browns are pesky and will hang around all night, but Cincinnati is 13-0-1 in its past 14 home games and knows how to both thrive and survive at Paul Brown Stadium.
One more win and the upstart Browns (5-3) are at the six-win plateau for the first time since they went a surprising 10-6 in 2007 under Romeo Crennel, many, many head coaching hires ago. But it has been almost as long since Cleveland won on the road in the division, with their last victory in that category coming against these Bengals in September 2008. The Browns came very close to ending that run of futility (a streak that has now reached 0-17) in Pittsburgh in Week 1, so the Bengals best be on their game.
Cleveland and Cincinnati once was one of the game’s most underrated rivalries, with all that shared Paul Brown history between these two franchises. Perhaps this is the start of a revival of sorts. The Browns and Bengals haven’t brought a pair of winning records into a game against each other this late in the season since 1986, a year in which both won on one another’s home turf. Cleveland went 12-4 and won the AFC Central that year, with the Bengals finishing 10-6 and just missing out on the AFC’s second wild-card berth. A mere 28 years later, here they are again.